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how to plant really tiny seeds (like viola or basil or ....)?

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i am in the Pac NW so we usually start our plants in a greenhouse / on the kitchen window sill

i can well understand the value of those "seed tapes" - but i have pkgs of seeds. I puff up those peat pot things (buy them dry, add water - poof!)

so i am trying to start indoors in those pots - some viola (edible flowers in salads etc) - and basil - and as you know - the seeds are microscopic

so i have tiny pots that have now sprouted about 10 violas each - they are at the 2-leaf stage.

how do i separate them out?

any articles in Fine Gardening online (I DON'T have subscription - so free access would be great)

i realize i should have been more careful about how many seeds in each peat pot

so how do you plant those really tiny seeds?

thank you!

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  1. Since viola reseeds itself when I start the plants myself I simply strew a few seeds on the surface of the potting soil and water from below. Let the peat pots stand in a little water till you see the surface damp. Do the same with basil seeds. Use a magnifying glass if you have to.

    To take the seedlings out of the peat pots use a wooden skewer or other small gadget like a lobster pick. Carefully push the pick into the soil just a little, w the other hand very carefully pull Slightly on the top leaves. One needs a Very Gentle Touch. Have your larger sized seedling pot all ready and using the pick as a kind of spatula, repot the seedling. Gently push the soil around the seedling. Gently water...

    1. Actually I never had any trouble with Basil seeds. Just sow on the surface of damp mix, mist, and sprinkle lightly with vermiculite, mist again, cover or put in a plastic bag til they sprout, then out of the bag and under lights.

      For really tiny seeds like Nicotiana, experts advise mixing with fine sand before sowing. I never bothered with that either, Just took a pinch of seeds, hold several inches above a tray filled with mix, and wiggled my fingers to strew the seeds (unevenly) across the surface.

      When I do sow things too thickly, to transplant them I first wet the soil, then as Gio says, gently loosen the root zone (I use a fork) grasp a leaf and ease it out to transplant into a 6- or 9-cell pack.

      I don't use peat pots.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DonShirer

        Forgot to say that I also took a small jar and punched some holes in the lid with an icepick. Tried that with the sand&seed mixture. It worked about as well as the finger method.

        1. re: DonShirer

          I've read about using fine sand, too, but since I didn't have any on hand, I mixed tiny seeds with a bit of all purpose flour--was able to then see the seeds clearly, so didn't over-plant.

        2. Are the leaves true leaves, or those pre-leaf things that come straight out from the seeds (cotyledons)? I wait until the seedlings put out the first pair of true leaves before attempting to transplant.

          Sometimes if they are in a clump, I use a popsicle stick to gently scoop out the clump and lay it on the surface of the dirt, then gently tease apart the seedlings.

          For very tiny seeds I start them off in a small container, like a plastic one that strawberries come in. Sprinkle them over the surface and once they are ready, transplant to individual pots. I do not have a gentle hand so my survival rate is not that good - I always start & transplant more than I think I'll need!

          1. Sprinkle the seeds in a small dish and use tweezers to pick them up.

            1. I spread out only as many seeds as I think I will need on a paper plate, then pick them up and place them with the moistened end of a chop stick.

              1. Hi Georgia Strait!

                Violas. Sigh. I live along the Strait and those bratty things self sow. Be careful whatever you do.

                Ok but for the small seeds - mix them with some sand then drop them in your row or pot. Works like a charm.

                You have about 10 violas in each peat pot? Hmm. I might let them grow a bit more (which you may already have done) and then pinch the weakest and most crowded off at the soil line. Kill off the few to save the strong. Some might say you can sort of gently pulse them apart with your fingers but that is tricky root wise.

                About the peat pots. as an experiment next year - try the pots you get this year with your little annuals. The plants seem to do better in those over the peats in my experience.

                I have tried all sorts of containers (like cardboard egg containers, thin disintegrating webbing... but the old used plastics you can use year after year - with regular old potting soil works really well.

                Any chance you are on the Oly peninsula??